The insanity of pregnancy

The mental and emotional powers which such commentators wished to dissociate from pregnancy returned with a vengeance, however, in the form of the disease category and symptoms of the 'insanity of pregnancy'. This is a phenomenon which has received surprisingly little attention from historians of medicine and culture. In order to understand it, some assumptions about the construction of disease categories need to be disentangled. In the past, following Michel Foucault, many historians have...

Womens rights and the antenatal environment

While the eugenics movement emphasised the importance of heredity in creating 'a healthy race', a rather different, environmental approach to foetal health was also emerging. The most important figure in this respect was J.W. Ballantyne, an Edinburgh-trained doctor whose interest in antenatal health derived from his MD research on foetal malformations. Ballantyne published two studies of antenatal pathology and therapeutics in 1902 and 1904, and insisted throughout his career on the importance...

Chapter

See Jean Donnison, Midwives and Medical Men A History of Inter-Professional Rivalries and Women's Rights (London Heinemann, 1977) Hilary Marland (ed.), The Art of Midwifery Early Modern Midwives in Europe (London Routledge, 1993) O. Moscucci, The Science of Woman Gynaecology and Gender in England, 1800-1929 (Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 1990) and Adrian Wilson, The Making of Man-Midwifery (Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press, 1995). 2. Elizabeth Nihell, A Treatise on the Art of...

Eugenics and social class

In the 1920s and 1930s eugenic ideas were widely debated in Britain. This was, in the main, a period of optimism and intense speculation in relation to the transformative possibilities of science. Such possibilities were explored in numerous texts written for the 'intelligent layman' and published in relatively cheap format in the 'Today and Tomorrow' and the 'Thinker's Library' series. J.B.S. Haldane, Ronald Macfie and Garet Garrett were among those who wrote for a general readership about...

Irritabilitysensibility and maternal impressions

The physiological changes which take place in pregnancy were understood at this time primarily in terms of 'irritability', a term which, when applied to organs of the body, denoted an excessively or morbidly excitable condition. It was believed that the event of conception stimulated the womb, creating an excitability which in turn affected other organs which were in 'consent' (sympathy) with it. Thus Thomas Denman writes that 'the truth of no observation in medicine has been more generally...

Degeneration and eugenic feminism

In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, reproduction became a highly political issue as it became closely entwined with concerns about the Empire. For the first time in centuries the birth rate was falling from 153.5 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44 in 1876-80 to 105.3 in 1906-10. At the same time, infant mortality remained relatively high and, if anything, was increasing. Average mortality for the decade 1890-1900 was 154 per 1,000 live births it had been 142 per 1,000 live births...

Introduction

In October 1791, Judith Milbanke wrote to her aunt, Mary Noel, reporting her suspicion that she was pregnant, after fifteen childless years of marriage and two miscarriages. Her situation was unusual in many respects. She was married to Ralph Milbanke, a Whig MP with whom she lived happily and who apparently put no pressure on her to bear children in order to continue the family line. She was actively involved in his political career, led a busy social life and, above all, was wealthy.1 Yet,...

Speaking of pregnancy competing truthclaims

Rowlandson

There have been several historical studies of the emergence of the man-midwife, or accoucheur, in the eighteenth century and of the gradual supplanting of the female midwife, first in upper-class and then in middle-class households.1 However, the main focus of such accounts has been the struggle over the management of childbirth and the use - and alleged abuse - of obstetric instruments. The debate between midwives and accoucheurs over the management of pregnancy has received less attention....